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Top 15 Albums of 2011 December 21, 2011

Posted by gwyoung in Album Reviews, Lists, Music.
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You know the drill. Here are 2011’s giants: the best 15 albums of the year. Read on:


Active Child – You Are All I See

You Are All I See sounds like apocalyptic grand cathedral music, only much quieter. Pat Grossi sounds like the melded voices of an angelic choir, singing in a dark church with bursts of light shooting in from stained glass windows to pierce the oppressive and devastating darkness.


Beirut – The Rip Tide

The Rip Tide is short and to-the-point, containing straightforward songs entirely typical of Beirut. No surprises here as Condon continues to take inspiration from folk music throughout Europe, just incredibly good songwriting and powerful vocals.


Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact

“Glass Jar” alone makes this album one of this year’s finest, with its 12 minutes of ethnic-infused tribal techno out-there experimental synth rock emerging out of the ether. Gang Gang Dance seem to both sidestep and exceed expectations at once, and Eye Contact shows a marvelously unexpected step away from their masterpiece, Saint Dymphna.


Radiohead – The King Of Limbs

Almost every Radiohead fan pretty much trashed this album when it came out early this year, and to this day I still don’t understand why. Sure, it sounds like classic Kid A/Amnesiac-era Radiohead: it’s not a groundbreaking new sound for the band. But classic Kid A/Amnesiac-era Radiohead was some pretty excellent music, and so is The King Of Limbs.


Future Islands – On The Water

I’ve already said my bit about Future Islands, and quite recently too. They’re still great. Don’t miss out on this album and all it’s atmospheric pirate-like new-wave goodness.


Ponytail – Do Whatever You Want All The Time

Right when Ponytail stumbles upon the perfect balance between noise and sugar-soaked layers of guitar and effects, the band calls it quits. Though the individual contributors will continue to make music (Dustin Wong has a new album out early next year), this fearsome four-piece will be sorely missed.


Youth Lagoon – The Year Of Hibernation

Tragic lo-fi bedroom pop with some epic emotional build-ups from a mousey little voice off in the distance. Trevor Powers’ voice and soft electronics perfectly capture the nostalgia of summer “Afternoons” and “July”, and the charm of this album will both break your heart and send your spirits soaring.


Hooray For Earth – True Loves

Taking cues from Yeasayer and other “indie dance” bands that have been emerging as of late, Hooray For Earth took us all by surprise with their big sound and powerful hooks. “True Loves” and “Sails” were two of the best singles of the year, and the rest of the album follows suit.


St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

Like Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca before it, this album is more “music for people who have listened to so much music that they can’t tell what’s good anymore and only like it because it sounds different.” I don’t have any problem with that, because on Strange Mercy, “different” sounds oh-so good.


Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil

“Transitional album” my ass. This is Deerhoof at their finest, offering the freshest blend of cute, cuddly, and thrashing guitars. Satomi and Greg Saunier really outdid themselves this year, making up for the slight misstep of Offend Maggie and reassuring fans that they will, in fact, keep making their music better and better with each release.


Givers – In Light

It seems like a lot of bands are trying to ride the afro-beat coattails of Vampire Weekend (Delicate Steve and Jinja Safari being two others on these lists alone), but Givers do it better than any other with their pop sensibility, bombastic electronics, and stunning display of boy-girl vocal prowess.


Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Building on For Emma with a backing band and gorgeously lush arrangements, Justin Vernon crafts a near-perfect (“Beth/Rest” and its cheese being the only exception) album that, despite the collaborative effort, pushes the angelic melancholy to its limits.


Alvin Band – Rainbow Road

This album sounds like what would happen if Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes replaced Avey Tare in Animal Collective and convinced the group to write songs about playing Mario Kart. Rainbow Road attempts and succeeds to capture the sheer joy and magic of a road trip around the mushroom kingdom.


Battles – Gloss Drop

2011’s music was big on the quirky and unique, and Gloss Drop pretty much tops the list in originality. Battles have proven that they don’t need Tyondai Braxton’s vocal effects to make interesting music, and instead barrage our ears with candy guitars and marshmallow drums.


Braids – Native Speaker

I reviewed this album back in January after hearing the leak before 2011 even started, and I contended that Braids was basically a female-fronted Animal Collective before daring the rest of 2011 to try to top them. Well, it didn’t, and though Braids’ sound is following in Animal Collective’s synthy footprints (see “Peach Wedding”), Native Speaker stands apart from any comparisons as a beautifully-conceived piece of emotional depth.


1. Vacationer – Gone « safer in the dark - March 30, 2012

[…] my year-end list for 2011, I included three different albums that are all participating in the recent insurgence of afro-beat […]

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